Morning Report — GOP’s Biden impeachment probe teeters


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House Republicans are pursuing impeachment of President Biden. By one constitutional yardstick, they’ve been challenged to produce evidence of high crimes or misdemeanors. In an election year, however, evidence may not be the point. 

Behind closed doors Wednesday, James Biden told members of two House committees that his older brother, now the president, had no role in any of his business dealings that are now under congressional scrutiny.  

The president’s son, Hunter Biden, will be interviewed by lawmakers next week. GOP members of the Oversight and Judiciary panels have thus far produced a series of largely exculpatory statements from the president’s relatives and some of their business associates and leaned into accusations raised by a former FBI informant, who is now charged with lying by the Justice Department. 

House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and fellow conservative overseers sidestepped questions this week about evidence, arguing the case for impeaching the president does not turn on former informant Alexander Smirnov, who now says Russian intelligence supplied a narrative damaging to Biden.  

“Well, I mean, it is what it is,” Jordan told reporters Wednesday. “It doesn’t change the fundamental facts.”    

The Hill: Arrest of an FBI informant loomed over Wednesday’s questioning of the president’s brother. 

Republicans argue that Biden improperly sought to leverage his name and influence to enrich his family, even when he returned to private life. Democrats denounce the impeachment inquiry as a political stunt intended to curry favor with supporters of former President Trump, now the GOP presidential front-runner who was twice impeached by the House and acquitted by the Senate. With their current slim House majority and if all members voted, it would only take three Republicans to torpedo impeachment. 

Trump while in office sought to obtain evidence of wrongdoing against Hunter Biden and political rival Joe Biden based on the younger Biden’s past lucrative business dealings on behalf of international clients. Trump’s public assertions about the Biden family in 2019 helped stoke unproven assertions of illegal influence peddling and eventually fed into a federal investigation of Hunter Biden, who has pleaded not guilty to tax and gun charges. 

The Hill’s Niall Stanage in his latest Memo unpacks what the Smirnov twist means for the Biden impeachment endeavor and Republicans’ political ambitions this year.  

🕐 Meanwhile, here’s an approaching deadline faced by House leaders: how to forestall a partial government shutdown when funding runs out for key federal departments on March 1. The House Freedom Caucus on Wednesday sent a letter to Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) that added to the pending drama, Axios reports. The firebrands told him their fallback position in the absence of significant spending cuts would be a proposed year of across-the-board spending reductions, which they know House Democrats will reject.   


3 THINGS TO KNOW TODAY:

▪ ⚖️ Trump’s attorneys on Wednesday requested a 30-day extension to pay a $355 million business fraud penalty announced by a New York judge last week. 

▪ 🌖 Lunar landings have a history of being tough to execute. Unmanned lander Odysseus, made by Houston-based Intuitive Machines for a mission under NASA contract, will attempt tonight to set down near the moon’s south pole. Check out images and what to watch.  

▪ ✈️ The head of Boeing’s 737 Max program will leave the company, the first significant staff shake-up since a Boeing-made Alaska Airlines jet lost a “door plug” during a dramatic midair fuselage rupture last month. 


LEADING THE DAY 

Politics Mich 020824 AP Carlos Osorio

© The Associated Press / Carlos Osorio | Demonstrators in Dearborn, Mich., early in February protested Israel’s attacks in Gaza ahead of a Michigan meeting among White House officials and Muslim and Arab American leaders. 

POLITICS 

AHEAD OF MICHIGAN’S DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY, critics of Biden’s Israel policy say they want the administration to back a cease-fire in Gaza. His stance in support of Israel, which opposes Hamas’s demands for a permanent cease-fire, could cost the president key votes in the state’s Feb. 27 Democratic primary as well as in November, The Hill’s Alex Gangitano reports. 

A Michigan group backed by Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), former Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.) and others is seeking to get 10,000 Democrats to vote “uncommitted” in the state’s primary Tuesday (Michigan Advance and The Washington Post). 

“If you want us to be louder, then come here and vote uncommitted,” Tlaib said in a video outside an early voting site on Saturday.  “… This is the way you can raise our voices. Don’t make us even more invisible. Right now, we feel completely neglected and just unseen by our government.” 

With the primary in Michigan less than a week away, the voices calling for Biden to back a permanent end to the fighting in Gaza are growing louder, indicating the president so far has a no-win political path on the situation. Even so, Biden’s reelection campaign is keeping its sights set on a general election rematch with Trump in November. 

THE GREAT LAKES STATE IS CRUCIAL for Biden to secure in November; he won narrowly over Trump in 2020 after Trump flipped Michigan red in 2016. Alongside Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, Michigan helped establish the winner of both the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections — and is likely to loom large again in 2024. Biden has set his sights on the state since the start of his campaign, appealing to union workers — and becoming the first president to join a picket line during the United Auto Workers strike in September. He’s talked up the economy, and is stressing the contrast between his candidacy and Trump’s (Politico and CNN). 

Still, Trump maintains a 3-point lead over Biden in Michigan, according to The Hill and Decision Desk HQ’s average of polls. 

▪ CBS News: Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), a Biden ally, to meet with Arab American leaders in Michigan before the state’s primary. 

▪ Detroit News: Vice President Harris will speak in Grand Rapids today as part of her “Fight for Reproductive Freedoms” tour, during which she has rallied female voters and criticized Republicans as extremists for trying to ban or restrict abortions.  

This year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is doubling as a coronation for Trump, underscoring the extent to which he has taken over the GOP. Trump will address the conference on Saturday, taking the stage hours before he is likely to thump former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley in her home state of South Carolina as he races toward clinching the Republican presidential nomination.  

The conference comes amid other signs that Trump is tightening his grip on the party. He has moved to reshuffle the top brass at the Republican National Committee, and his influence on Capitol Hill helped scuttle a bipartisan border security deal (The Hill).  

“The heart and soul of the conservative movement, the heart and soul of the Republican Party, the people that make things happen, they’re all for Trump,” said Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, which hosts CPAC. “They’re not really having a conversation about this presidential race because they think it’s over.” 

Before attending CPAC, Trump will speak at the Christian Media Convention in Nashville today (News Channel 5). 


2024 ROUNDUP:   

▪ In Nevada, Senate candidate and veteran Sam Brown, a frontrunner among Republican primary contenders, is challenging Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen. For that reason, it’s notable that Brown and his wife, Amy Brown, decided to share Amy’s story about an abortion she had when she was single and 24, before they were a couple. Sam Brown told NBC News in an interview that he supports Nevada’s state law allowing abortion up to 24 weeks and backs exceptions for rape, incest and the life and health of a mother. He also said he would “close the door” on supporting a federal abortion ban, saying it should be a state issue.  

▪ Biden is chipping away at student loan debt and has canceled $138 billion using piecemeal executive initiatives but has received scant credit for tackling a campaign promise that has been tangled in court challenges. 

▪ Former Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, once a progressive who has denounced the Democratic Party, will headline a Mar-a-Lago fundraiser March 7 to benefit the 917 Society, known for distributing pocket copies of the Constitution. Trump has mentioned Gabbard among a list of possible running mates.  


WHERE AND WHEN 

The House convenes for a pro forma session at 11:30 a.m. Friday. 

The Senate on Friday will hold a pro forma session at 3 p.m.  

The president is in California. Biden will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9 a.m.  He will headline a big-ticket campaign fundraiser at 2:45 p.m. PT in Los Altos Hills hosted by Robert Klein, Danielle Guttman Klein and Steve Westly before returning to the White House by midnight. 

Vice President Harris will travel to Grand Rapids, Mich., for a 2:45 p.m. roundtable event in support of abortion and reproductive rights. She will return to Washington this evening. 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Brazil for the Group of 20 gathering of foreign ministers held in Rio de Janeiro. After a morning G20 session, the secretary will meet in the afternoon with Japanese Foreign Minister Kamikawa Yoko and South Korean Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul. The secretary will co-host a G20 session about Haiti, followed by a press conference. 

Economic indicator: The Labor Department at 8:30 a.m. will report claims for unemployment insurance during the week ending Feb. 17. 


ZOOM IN 

INTERNATIONAL 

IN THE MIDDLE EAST, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Wednesday that new efforts are underway to reach a cease-fire deal with Hamas that could pause the war in Gaza. “Initial signs indicate a possibility of moving forward,” Gantz said. 

It’s the first Israeli indication of renewed cease-fire talks since negotiations stalled a week ago. However, Gantz repeated his pledge that unless Hamas agrees to release the remaining Israeli hostages in Gaza, Israel will launch a ground offensive into the crowded southern city of Rafah during the upcoming Muslim holy month of Ramadan. 

Israel’s war in Gaza has driven some 80 percent of the population of 2.3 million from their homes. Most heeded Israeli orders to flee south and around 1.5 million people are packed into Rafah near the border with Egypt. Israel stepped up its bombardment of Rafah, residents said on Wednesday, as the death toll in the war rose to 29,313, according to the Gaza Health Ministry (ABC News and Reuters). 

CIA director Bill Burns is expected to travel to Paris on Friday to hold talks with Qatari, Egyptian and Israeli officials about the efforts to reach a hostage deal, Axios reports. 

NPR: How much humanitarian aid is getting into Gaza? The exact answer can be hard to know.  

International Putin 041223 Sputnik Sergei Karpukhin

© The Associated Press / Sergei Karpukhin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo | Russian President Vladimir Putin, who denies he wants to put nuclear weapons into Earth’s orbit, marked Cosmonautics Day in 2023. 

IF RUSSIA SEEKS TO PUT A NUCLEAR WEAPON in orbit, it will likely do so this year — but it might instead launch a harmless “dummy” warhead to leave the West guessing about its capabilities. American intelligence agencies recently provided this assessment to their closest European allies, though they remain sharply divided in their opinion about what President Vladimir Putin is planning. The nuclear space weapon would not attack Earth, but would instead destroy satellites by creating a massive energy wave when detonated, potentially crippling a vast swath of the commercial and government satellites that the world below depends on to talk on cell phones, pay bills, and use the internet (CNN). 

On Tuesday, Putin rejected the accusation that he intended to place a nuclear weapon in orbit, and his defense minister said the intelligence warning was manufactured in an effort to get Congress to authorize more aid for Ukraine (The New York Times).  

▪ The Hill: Biden on Wednesday called Putin a “crazy SOB.” 

▪ CNN analysis: Putin looms over a third successive U.S. election. 

▪ Politico: The White House struggles to increase pressure on Russia as options dwindle. 

▪ The Wall Street Journal: This Ukrainian teenager was forcibly taken from his hometown and immersed in pro-Moscow messaging. His family wanted him back — but saving him wouldn’t be easy. 

AMERICANS HELD IN RUSSIA: Russia announced Tuesday it arrested dual Russian American citizen, Ksenia Karelina, 33, a ballerina who is accused of donating $51 to a nonprofit supporting Ukraine following Russia’s invasion (New York Daily News). Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, 32, imprisoned by Russia since last March, will remain in prison until at least March 30, after his latest appeal was denied Tuesday (The Wall Street Journal). 

NATO LEADERS: Biden is supporting Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte to become the next NATO secretary general, Politico reports. Biden’s support is likely to sway more allies to get on board with Rutte’s nomination, after months of jockeying between him and several other European leaders for the job. 


ELSEWHERE 

State Watch Ala 022024 AP Kim Chandler

© The Associated Press / Kim Chandler | Political and legal ramifications are being debated following Friday’s ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court that frozen embryos can be considered children under state law.  

STATE WATCH 

ALABAMA’S SUPREME COURT ruled that frozen embryos can be considered children, signaling a new front in a national debate. The ruling is limited to Alabama, reports The Hill’s Nathaniel Weixel, but reproductive rights advocates and legal experts worry it’s a new opening in the “personhood” movement, which aims to grant legal protections to embryos at the point of conception. More immediately, the decision poses questions for the fertility industry and in vitro fertilization clinics. 

The University of Alabama at Birmingham health system has since announced it is pausing in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment following the ruling, the first health system in the state to do so (CNN). 

STATES & CLIMATE: Many of the largest U.S. banks and asset managers are withdrawing from their climate commitments amid a fossil fuel-funded assault aimed at state legislatures. As bills bills against environmental, social and governance initiatives are proposed in statehouses across the country — initiatives to blacklist and in some cases criminalize banks that refuse to invest in fossil fuels — many banks are retreating from the bullish “net zero” pronouncements they made since the 2015 Paris Climate Accords (The Hill). 

MAJOR TECHNOLOGY COMPANIES nationwide have cut thousands of jobs since the start of 2024, marking the latest wave of layoffs in the industry in recent years. While earlier cuts were attributed to pandemic-era dynamics as well as lingering high interest rates, some experts point to the rapid development of artificial intelligence (Bloomberg News). 

A PROPOSED GEORGIA LAW dictating that private schools cannot teach students about gender identity or LGBTQ theory without parental approval divides some conservatives and school choice advocates, writes The Hill’s Lexi Lonas. While Republicans often tout private schools as a way to help keep the government out of education, private schools can restrict how gender can be taught in public schools.  

“I think that this is a major overreach. One of the most basic benefits of choice in education, and especially of just being able to choose a private school, is people with different values can choose schools based on the policies they have — and those policies can be different,” said Neal McCluskey, director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom.  

The Hill: In Texas, a Black teenager suspended for his dreadlocks heads to court in a CROWN Act case. 


OPINION 

■ It’s time to seize Russia’s reserves. Ukraine needs the money. What is Biden waiting for? by The Wall Street Journal editorial board.  

■ A No Labels unity ticket could be catastrophic for American democracy, by former Reps. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) and Tom Coleman (R-Mo.), opinion contributors, The Hill.   


THE CLOSER 

Quiz Felton 081210 AP

© The Associated Press / AP photo | Rebecca Latimer Felton became the first woman to serve in the Senate for one day in 1922. 

Take Our Morning Report Quiz 

And finally … It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for this week’s Morning Report Quiz! Alert to congressional retirements, we’re eager for some smart guesses about long and short political careers

Be sure to email your responses to asimendinger@thehill.com and kkarisch@thehill.com — please add “Quiz” to your subject line. Winners who submit correct answers will enjoy some richly deserved newsletter fame on Friday. 

Who holds the record for the longest time served in Congress? 

  1. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) 
  1. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) 
  1. Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) 
  1. Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) 

Former Interior Secretary Thomas M.T. McKennan and former Secretary of State Elihu Washburne share a record for the shortest stint as Cabinet members. How long did they serve? 

  1. Three months 
  1. Eight months 
  1. 11 days 
  1. Six weeks 

In 1922, Rebecca Latimer Felton, Democrat of Georgia, became the first woman to serve in the Senate, but only for one day. Why? 

  1. An unexpected illness forced her to resign 
  1. She was appointed but did not seek election, and served a day before being replaced by the winner of the special election 
  1. She found she did not care for the work 
  1. She served for the last day of a congressional term 

Which of the following presidents did not serve in both the House and Senate before being elected? 

  1. Lyndon B. Johnson 
  1. John Quincy Adams 
  1. Barack Obama 
  1. Franklin Pierce 

Stay Engaged 

We want to hear from you! Email: Alexis Simendinger (asimendinger@thehill.com) and Kristina Karisch (kkarisch@thehill.com). Follow us on X, formerly known as Twitter: (@asimendinger and @kristinakarisch) and suggest this newsletter to friends! 





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